My Pelham Parkway—an Old Friend Fades Away

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06/17/2016

Neighborhood: Bronx

My first encounter with the Pelham Parkway neighborhood took place in my mid-teens, around 1970, when my grandparents moved to a building at Lydig and Wallace. Most of the Jews in the Bronx were moving to Co-op City or the suburbs, but Pelham Parkway was very likely the last of the old-fashioned Jewish immigrant neighborhoods in the borough.

By that time, most of the residents were seniors, but you still had a good number of families and a few young single people. Jewish refugees from what was still the Soviet Union were also moving in.

The area was characterized by huge 1920s apartment houses with courtyards and a few private houses here and there. The main shopping streets, White Plains Road and Lydig Avenue, had many old-fashioned stores that warmed the heart of my parents and others in the older generation – a bakery where one could buy black-and-white cookies and hamentaschen, the Zion Kosher Delicatessen; and a dairy restaurant that served blintzes and noodles-and-cheese. White Plains Road had a small musical instrument store, a big plus for aspiring young rock musicians like me, the spacious Six Brothers diner where my grandfather used to take us for lunch, and a tiny mom-and-pop health food store that had nothing in common with the chains that later dominated the industry.

Pelham Parkway itself was the area’s main attraction, a green ribbon through the neighborhood. The parkway was anchored by the subway station, two gigantic synagogues, and Bronx House, a big community center with a swimming pool. In the summer, you saw hundreds of seniors on the benches.

Grandpa died in ’76, Grandma in ’77. I thought of moving into their apartment after she passed away, but at the time, I was working only part-time and couldn’t afford the rent. And in my early 20s, I knew nothing about leases, rent increases, or the fact that you couldn’t just move into a relative’s apartment as if you owned the place.

After that, however, I still found myself in the area a few times a year. My visits increased after 1980, when I met Mike Tannenbaum, a young guy my age who was an electronic-music freak, a stereo and computer whiz, and a brilliant science-fiction writer. He lived on Barnes Avenue with a roommate who soon moved out.

Mike told me that one of the other tenants, a woman in her 90s, was one of the building’s original tenants from 1927. “At that time, there wasn’t much but trees and grass around here,” he said. “She decided to move here because her other choice, the Concourse, was only for rich people!” We had a good laugh, since the Concourse was very rundown in the ’80s.

Because Mike lived in the North Bronx, he was somewhat isolated from his peers. In his apartment, however, he was king. He had two computers when most people didn’t even have one, two VCRs, a huge fish tank, and thousands of dollars worth of stereo equipment. When a would-be-girlfriend rejected him, he consoled himself by saying, “She doesn’t know a damn thing about stereo!”

Throughout the 1980s, I kept visiting the Pelham Parkway area from time to time. The neighborhood was like an old friend that didn’t change much, even though it was becoming a little rundown around the edges. I had fights with friends (including Mike, who became enraged when I bought a stereo without asking for his advice), problems on the job, and breakups with girlfriends. But Pelham Parkway was still Pelham Parkway.

After I got married in ’95, I took fewer walks around the city. A few years later, my wife suggested we take a trip to the Bronx Zoo. After walking around the zoo and having a great time, we came out on the White Plains Road side. I eagerly took her on a walk, but to my shock, Pelham Parkway was no longer my Pelham Parkway.

On Lydig Avenue, Olinsky’s supermarket and Carvel were gone. Several Albanian social clubs, food stores, real estate offices and coffee shops had moved in. While I definitely have nothing whatsoever against Albanians, it made me sad to realize that people like myself, the grandson of Russian-Jewish immigrants, were now a small minority.

Walking over to White Plains Road, I found it dominated by big 99-cent stores with displays spilling onto the sidewalk and generic chain stores. The corner diner on the north side of the parkway had become a Dunkin’ Donuts, and the Six Brothers diner on the south side was gone. The tiny health-food store had disappeared, and although there was a GNC on the street, it wasn’t the same.

We eventually found a small coffee shop with wooden tables and a limited menu. Most of the customers were shabbily-dressed older people who had been sitting there for hours, talking to each other and watching the overhead TV set. You could tell this was the highlight of their day. We vowed that the next time we went to the zoo, we would leave on the side nearer to Arthur Avenue, which had good Italian restaurants.

Today, I have a more balanced view of Pelham Parkway. The neighborhood as it once existed failed to hold most of its children and grandchildren – probably because it is so far from Manhattan. Mike Tannenbaum had confidently predicted that the parkway itself would make the neighborhood “hip” in the same way Prospect Park spurred gentrification in Park Slope. He was wrong.

Today’s Pelham Parkway, rather than being the province of one ethnic group, as it was in the old days, is extremely diverse. You see Albanians, Russian Jews, Pakistanis, Latinos, Arabs and even one or two Hasidim. Many, if not most, are immigrants, just as most of the people who originally moved into the neighborhood in the 1920s were immigrants. The people are busy living their lives, having their dreams. They’re making their own memories, which will be as important to them as my memories of sitting on the couch with Mike Tannenbaum while listening to The Who, Yes or Kraftwerk are to me.

It’s no longer my Pelham Parkway, but it’s still Pelham Parkway. And the next time we go to the zoo – I’m sorry, but we’ll still opt for those Arthur Avenue Italian restaurants!

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§ 5 Responses to “My Pelham Parkway—an Old Friend Fades Away”

  • Meyer Falik says:

    Very interesting piece. Well ours was a bit different. I grew up in Edenwald Projects, I used to walk to Pelham Parkway because there were more Jewish kids to hang out with there. I married a girl I met in Co-Op cityafter we moved there. We moved into Pelham Parkway and lived on Matthews Ave. After we had our third child we moved to Israel. On trips back we visit the Old Neighborhood to see how much it has changed.

  • Nina Talbot says:

    My grandparents also lived in the Pelham Parkway neighborhood on Brady Avenue off White Plains Road. When I was five years old, my parents, me and my sister lived with them until we had our own apartment. I remember once running away from my grandfather in Bronx Park because of some argument about my sister, who was one year old at the time, and in her stroller. I managed to get far away enough that I was thought to be lost, but I knew the neighborhood well, and walked around until I lost some steam and found my way home. Naturally everyone was in an uproar, and my poor grandfather was beside himself. My mother had called the police to say that I was home, and they could call off their search. That is one of my profound memories from Pelham Parkway, but I also remember the stores on Lydig Avenue where I would shop with my grandmother.

    Decades later, I got a job teaching art in the local public school (where my mother and her sister attended). Although I lived in South Brooklyn, almost an hour and a half by subway to the job, I was so happy to be in the old neighborhood. And the diversity that you speak of was apparent by virtue of the student population- as you wrote, many Albanian students, as well as others from that part of the world, Latinos and many other groups.

    Yes, the old neighborhood HAS changed, but it still has a very neighborhood-y residential feel, and one still sees people sitting on the benches on Pelham Parkway. Your article made me feel nostalgic, and a bit sad, as my grandparents also passed away some time ago, and I still miss them. And I feel guilty to this day having put my grandfather through such a scare.

    Great article! Thank you.

  • June Greco says:

    I found myself sitting at my desk at work here in Indiana. Trying to find a picture of what a NY Gyro would actually look like to show my friends. Having just gotten one from a food truck here, I was a bit disappointed and thought I should show them all what it should look like. I stumbled upon your story trying to look up Six Brothers Restureant.

    You could imagine how shocked I was to find that it is no longer there.

    I grew up on Cruger Avenue , right across form the school yard. My G
    rand Father lived on the Other side of Lydig Avenue on Cruger as well. I remember All the wonderful things that came along with growing up in my neighborhood. Times have surely changed and yes, It is now someone else’s kind of neighborhood.

    Found my First love , he lived on Matthews Ave. I remember hanging out on Lydig Avenue . . .all of the kids in the neighborhood had their own group of friends that hung on each street. We walked the elderly home with their groceries and we could walk the streets at any hour and be safe.
    Lydig Avenue was a vision in the summer and I remember having to walk through the maze of people shopping and visiting on the sidewalk, just to get where I was heading.

    I could go on and on about my life in the Pelham Parkway area. .

    Thank you for the trip down memory lane. . . You have brought a bit of my childhood back into my heart that has faded with age.

  • Tommy Forray says:

    Hi….I lived on Wallace and Lydig and grew up in the neighborhood from 1948 to 1970 when I left. Ar that time the neighborhood was probably 97% Jewish. It was bordered by two Italian neighborhoods ; Morris Park area on one side , and Allerton Avenue on another. The Parkway ran to Orchard Beach and City Island. The neighborhood was full of European Jews and many Holocaust immigrants. It was a shopping and social mecca. All manner of European languages were heard on the streets. Jewish deli’s , candy stores/lunchonettes, the Pelham and Globe movie theaters , bakeries , pizza places , Kosher meat stores , grocery and fruit stands , etc. lined Lydig Avenue. Everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood. It was like a small town or village. Tons of kids grew up there. I went to P S. 105…later P.S. 83…then Christopher Columbus High School…and after that Hunter College. I grew and played ; lived and loved there. I hung out as a teen in the pool room , Milton’s nightclub, and The Wall on the Parkway with friends. My friends and I were teens who went through the social upheaval and the Renaissance that was the 60’s in the neighborhood. Eventually , having hit our early twenties , most of the kids left the neighborhood for colleges around the country. The neighborhood changed after that and went through metamorphoses as described by writers above. I experienced the neighborhood during a golden time of extraordinary peace , safety , growth and change. What an incredible place….

  • Stu Chimkin says:

    All the articles were like a time lapse for me. What great memories. Yes the neighborhood has changed, it’s no longer the same, but the memories will last forever.

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